The Religious Organizations Practice of Payne & Fears LLP advises and represents nonprofit religious organizations, corporations, educational institutions and churches (without regard to religion or belief) in the areas of property ownership, corporate formation and governance, and employment.  The firm has assembled an experienced team of attorneys in this multidisciplinary practice area, including attorneys with expertise in business litigation and appellate, constitutional, corporate, property and employment law. 

Demonstrating their expertise in the area, Payne & Fears LLP attorneys pursued an appeal to the California Supreme Court in Episcopal Church Cases, 45 Cal. 4th 467, 87 Cal. Rptr. 3d 275 (2009), on behalf of St. James Anglican Church, Newport Beach.  The Court agreed with Payne & Fears LLP on the key legal issue of how California courts should resolve church property disputes by adopting the "neutral principles of law" method.  Episcopal Church Cases is now California’s leading church property decision.

The firm's high profile representation stet resulted in extensive national media coverage.  Practice Leader and Partner Eric C. Sohlgren, and Partner Daniel F. Lula, have been interviewed by numerous national, regional and local media outlets, including newspapers, television, radio and blogs, regarding Episcopal Church Cases and other cases, how the law impacts religious groups, and practical steps they can take to protect their rights.

Payne & Fears LLP has significant expertise in the following areas:  

Strategic Advice and Preparation

We have advised numerous religious organizations about their property and corporate rights when they are considering a change of religious affiliation or are threatened with litigation.  We have also assisted leaders and governing bodies (vestries, sessions, parish councils, boards, etc.) with strategic advice, contracts, and resolutions to carry out their activities and protect their legal interests.


We have assisted numerous groups in forming nonprofit religious corporations, strategically preparing for and conducting the required votes to change religious affiliation, and in fulfilling the corporate requirements for doing so.

Civil Litigation and Appeals

We have successfully defended religious organizations in the secular courts, including corporate governance disputes and suits filed to take the property of local churches after a change of affiliation.  Our attorneys are admitted to practice in a number of states and federal courts, and are able to associate with local counsel in any jurisdiction.  We have a wealth of experience and knowledge in defending these lawsuits in the trial and appellate courts, including before the California Supreme Court.  At the same time, we are sensitive to the needs and aspirations of religious communities in carrying out their missions.


Many churches and religious organizations seek our advice and counsel concerning employment issues, including issues relating to employee performance, handbooks, leadership, independent contractors, and the extent to which churches are covered by various federal and state employment laws.